Study visit in Burgas region, Bulgaria

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Study visit hold on 22nd of May was organized to introduce with good practices of senior tourism development in Burgas region, Bulgaria. During the visit five places were evaluated to choose the best good practices from all the partners` regions.

The village of Brashlian is an architectural and historical reserve since 1982 (there are 76 houses – cultural and architectural monuments, 9 of them are with National meaning, 22 regional  and the rest with local meaning). The village of Brashlian is located at 11 km to the northwest of Malko Tarnovo and 4 kilometres away from the Turkish border. Administratively part of Malko Tarnovo municipality. Strandzha National Park is lying on the border of Turkey and Bulgaria. It has received the title in 1995, currently having the biggest territory among Bulgarian national parks. The village was predicted to become depopulated by 2000, but in the 90s 15 early pensioner families moved backed from large industrial centres to Brashlian (currently about 50 permanent inhabitants and 50 temporary). They started to renovate public buildings and using their houses as guest houses for tourists. Also the Directorate of Strandzha National Park, which is a member of BRTA, is active on the field of project development not only in nature protection, but also in tourism. The attraction of the village is the St. Demetrius church and the church school next to it. The first developments were coordinated by an association of local people having 20 members (currently 5 members). Still the association has a main role in the coordination of the tourism activities in the village. They have an own bookkeeper and the money transaction and tourism management go mainly through the association. Through a private investment a hotel was opened recently following the architectural traditions of the village having 40 beds. The guest houses run by private persons can accommodate up to 60 beds. Most of the visitors are coming from the hotels of Sunny Beach in organized groups (annually 10-11 thousands). The recently developed hotel is providing accessible solutions for visitors. Many Bulgarians rent/own summer cottages in the village which increases the amount of temporary inhabitants. Activities such as hiking and hunting can be practiced on the area. Typical local food, drinks and folkloric traditions were presented by the members of the association in the traditional restaurant of the village. The activities were presented to partners by the village Mayor and the tourism management and coordination in the village Brashlian is one of the suggested good practices from Burgas area.

More information on Strandzha National Park: (only available in Bulgarian)

During the travel to Sozopol a promotion film on the city was presented to the participants. The city itself has a long cultural tradition dating back to the 5th century. The Island of St. Ivan next to Sozopol was a protective place for the monks of the monastery under the Turkish age. The vice mayor presented at the town hall the touristic and social investments of the city. Tourism is a key industry of the city, but they are providing free kindergarten, support for families with babies, and special services for old people. Sozopol has 12600 inhabitants in 12 settlements. There are many active senior clubs in the city and they were presented as examples of the Burgas pensioner’s club good practice of TOURAGE project which highlights the role of seniors in producing services for the tourists but also organizing tourism activities to the member seniors. Denka Todorova, the director of the Cultural House of Sozopol which is coordinating the pensioners’ clubs listed the main activities organized for them: dancing, folklore, pop music, theater, and these groups are regularly representing Sozopol to tourists.

The Bulgarian Greek Club is a special pensioners’ club. Established 21 years ago the main goal is to protect cultural traditions and present them to future generations. They regularly organize for members recreation and tourism visits to Greece, and also welcome Greek groups in Sozopol.

The Bulgarka Club of retired officers from Bulgarian Army was established 4 years ago. They organize singing activities, welcoming tourist groups, presenting wedding traditions.

For questions it was explained that the clubs have male and female members. The financing is coming from sponsors, donations and membership fee of members.

During a walk in the city the director of the museum of Sozopol presented the excavations of the city in the last years and the main findings (fortress wall, old church, monastery building). The visitors of the ancient reliefs are a diverse group, especially a middle age grave of the Sozopol Vampire excavated last year made the Sozopol city popular for younger tourists. The museum financed by the EAA/Norway grants has all accessible solutions, such as elevators and wheelchair ramps, for disabled and senior visitors.

Further information on Sozopol municipality:

After the lunch break in Sozopol the study visit group travelled to Pomorie, where the Good Practice Special Health Program in the “Specialized Hospital for Rehabilitation-NK” was presented. The hospital is specialized on mud therapy. They have 180 beds for state financed patients, and apartments for private patients mainly from Russia. They have specialized services for disabled people in a separate building. For a 7 days state financed therapy the own contribution is 60 BGN/person (about 30 €/person). A private patient has to pay 60 BGN (~30 €) per day. The procedures are not only used by hospital guests but also other customers. Annually 7500 patients are treated, 63% of the patients are 55+, 30% are 67+. 130 people are employed in the hospital. 300 000 procedures are done annually. The hospital is state owned, branch of a national rehabilitation hospital network.

Next to the rehabilitation hospital a five star hotel Grand Hotel Pomorie opened its gates in 2006. The hotel is owned by 2 private (Russian and Bulgarian) investors. The guests are mainly coming from Russia (60%), but also from Germany (20%), Bulgaria and Romania. It is the biggest spa center of the Black Sea shore. Specific salt water and mud therapies - same as in the visited hospital -  are provided for the guests (altogether 45 different procedures, including specific Bulgarian procedures with milk, yoghurt, honey and roses). 80% of guests are from the so called third age, in other words seniors. Many tourists are coming back after their first visit. The daily rate of service including accommodation, food and therapies is 200 BGN (~100 €) on an average. The reservations for the 200 rooms are done individually, less group tourists than at the beginning of operation. 4 rooms are especially designed for disabled people, although the spa area was not fully accessible (pools are not accessible with a wheelchair). Some of the treatments for Bulgarians are paid by the government through the National Social Security Institution. In the off-season the prices are lower, but they are not offering specific packages for seniors - but nevertheless 80 % of customers are seniors. They employ 250 people, but in season even more. The hotel hosted this year the international spa congress of the European Spa Association. The visit to the hotel concretized the variation in supply between the hospital like rehabilitation services and hotel surroundings. 

Further information on Pomorie:

The website of the Grand Hotel Pomorie:


After a travel to Sunny Beach, a tourist complex of the Black Sea shore of Burgas region, the director of Sunny Beach Pls and 3 hotel representatives presented Sunny Beach and its services for the seniors.The first registered tourists arrived in 1959, today 137 hotels having 59840 beds. Important element that Sunny Beach is working closely with the nearby historical city of the sea shore, Nessebar.

Hotel representatives explained the seasonality of Sunny Beach and those activities how they try to prolong season. Especially a new programme designed for Austrian pensioners in the pre-season can make a change. 15000 seniors will arrive until the end of May 2013 for the first time this year to use the services of Sunny Beach. It is coordinated by Senora Reisen, and 4 hotels are contracted. Specific 7 days programmes are offered including cultural activities.

Sunny Beach is more leisure and holiday oriented than Pomorie which offers more health services. There are legal obligations for accessibility but they are not specialized for that. All quality level from hostels to five star accommodation is provided for guests arriving mainly from Russia, Eastern European countries, Scandinavia, Central Europe.There are discount programmes in off-season offering free nights and free spa services for guests. They mentioned that there is a big responsibility for tour operators to present off-season opportunities also for tourists.

The marketing strategy of sunny Beach has recently changed. There is a better focus from young people to families and elderly people, who are spending money on cultural activities not only on leisure activities. This would provide possibility for entrepreneurs to diversify their services and products. The segments are changing in many hotels, Arabic, Israeli, Russian guests are in a growing number. In order to support these groups a easier visa administration system for visitors should be developed. The marketing is shared between business organisations, associations and the government.

Direct flight is offered only during high season, which decreases the amount of tourists during the off-season in the area. Regional stakeholders and entrepreneurs are hoping that direct flights during the offseason would be offered in the future too to diversify the supply. From summer 2013 the highway between Sofia and Bourgas will be completed which can increase the tourist flows to the area since it becomes more accessible (Sofia and Plovdiv airport could be reached more easily).

Further information on Sunny Beach:


Author: Zoltan Balogh, Észak-Alföld Regional Development Agency (Hungary)